Social Protection for Cows?

cows nigerCows, camels and goats are a crucial store of value in many countries. They provide meat, milk and clothing, they can be a quasi currency and can be passed on to children. In some countries, they are used as a kind of high interest revolving loan – you borrow a pair of breeding animals, look after them til they have young, then return the breeding stock and raise the calves yourself. The economic role is buttressed by cultural factors – owning livestock brings status and respect. So livestock are valuable, multi-purpose assets (like money, only cash or bank accounts don’t provide you with milk) but, unlike other assets (houses, machinery, pots and pans, money), animals can die and lose their value overnight, especially during droughts or floods. An interesting recent BBC piece on hunger in Niger mentioned in passing that the FAO is distributing animal feed for people’s cows as part of its anti-famine work. The FAO cattle-feeding programme will both keep the cows alive, and discourage people from distress-selling their assets at the rock bottom prices that characterize a crisis. This got me thinking about the importance of smoothing the impact of shocks on livestock as well as more directly on people. Which prompts the thought, what else could be taken from our burgeoning interest in social protection (see recent post) and applied to livestock? Possible: child benefits could become calf support grants. Cash transfers (presumably to humans, not cows) could be made conditional on having your livestock vaccinated. Any other candidates? [Unlikely: cow pensions, unemployment benefit] And if people do have to sell their cows, could governments, perhaps using aid money, buy them at decent prices and set the same price for restocking after the rains return? Presumably lots of social protection-type stuff is happening already – over to the livestock community to fill us all in]]>

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our .

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


4 Responses to “Social Protection for Cows?”
  1. James Toone

    This is an interesting idea, Duncan.
    However, I would add a caveat. I was recently working in South Sudan, where cattle rustling is a significant ‘conflict multiplier’, and where the value of cattle – both to Livelihoods and (inter-related) for prestige – seems to outstrip pretty much everything else. Might it not create an incentive to steal more cattle in such areas were these cattle to be linked in to the receipt of aid?
    Just a thought to imply a broader point – the policy could work, but the context in which it was applied would have to be rigorously analysed.

  2. Vaibhav

    Very good idea! Following the FAO’s cattle-feeding programme, calf support grants sounds interesting. Besides being a multipurpose asset, livestock are also a crucial part of the food chain and ecosystem. In poor areas across the world the cows are dying due to lack of food and medication. Unlike us human beings there should be sufficient food and medication be made available for the cows, buffalos, bullocks, etc. We all can create and form groups / communities and raise funds for supporting such projects.
    Here I would like to suggest you a great website that I came across where you can create communities, groups, raise a petition for various environmental issues and can learn much more on how you can do your bit about environment, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, clean energy, green living, reducing your carbon footprint and so on, visit

  3. Duncan, I was pleased to see your post with its catchy title ‘Social Protection for Cows’ – highlighting the issues that pastoralists are currently facing across the Sahel region of West Africa.
    I wouldn’t claim to be a “livestock type”, far too much of a generalist, but just wanted to share that Oxfam is currently implementing some of the activities you mentioned, in an emergency response in Niger and Mali…
    In Niger – with the support of FAO and others, we’ve ‘destocked’ 2,605 UBT (that’s cows to you and I), buying them at decent prices and distributed the resulting meat to over 80,000 people. Our partners have also distributed animal feed (free of charge and at subsidised prices) to 76,000 people to help keep their animals alive. We’re also implementing an animal health programme (vaccinations) and as the pastures are becoming greener have moved from ‘destocking’ to ‘restocking’ i.e. providing people with livestock to grow their depleted herds. Conflict protection activities are part of this – in response to James’ post – but the impact of these is yet to be measured (and would be pretty difficult I’d imagine). The knowledge of our local partners has been crucial in shaping the response to date.
    In Mali – we’re supporting both people and their livestock with emergency food – including distributing 808 MT of fodder to nearly 100,000 people to support their animals’ survival.
    We’re also responding in Chad but with no animal beneficiaries to date!
    Like I said I’m no livestock expert and this type of programming is new to me but one thing that makes Oxfam’s response different is our focus on both people and animals, and both agropastolalist and pastoralist communities.

  4. Duncan, your blog on cow protection v interesting – but why not just give people the cash then they can figure whether best to vaccinate, feed the cows, or pay for books for the kids? And did you know Oxfam is already doing this in Northern Kenya, as part of the HSNP – trialling various ways of targeting cash at people (with cows) – as is HelpAge (with a
    Social Pension, naturally).
    For more on social protection and how its fairing at the MDG Summit, see this